Blue Rodeo is definitively linked to over two decades of Canadian music, so it's funny that its two guitarists/singers, Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor, actually spent most of the early 1980s in New York City. Playing as The HiFi's, their attempt at a Big Apple breakthrough was ultimately a failed experiment one that led the pair back home to Toronto in 1980. It would be the best decision they ever made.
"Moving back to Toronto, there was such an incredible music scene," remembers Cuddy. "As soon as we moved back I knew we had made the right choice." Their choice led to the formation of one of our country's most enduring acts.
Cutting their teeth on the city's thriving Queen Street club scene, Blue Rodeo rounded out at the time by bassist Bazil Donovan, keyboardist Bob Wiseman and drummer Cleave Anderson was soon in a position to record material. The resulting 1980 LP, Outskirts, was a landmark debut. Its seamless blending of country, rockabilly and jazz, with a touch of blue-eyed soul, was both timeless and oddly original. One track in particularCuddy's eloquently stated ballad "Try"would give the group a foothold they've yet to relinquish.
Throughout the '80s, '90s and '00s, Blue Rodeo's string of hit albums were enviably consistentDiamond Mine, Casino, Lost Together, Five Days in July, Palace of Gold and their latest, Small Miracles, have all proved to be huge successes. Before long, Cuddy and Keelor were being called our own Lennon and McCartney. And when you peruse the list of great songs that these albums sired, it's easy to see why. "Bad Timing", "'Til I Am Myself Again", "Love and Understanding", "After The Rain", "Hasn't Hit Me Yet" and "Bulletproof" are just the tip of a deep, rich catalogue.
Unlike so many bands before them, neither time nor lineup changes could stem Blue Rodeo's ascension. Anderson's departure led eventually to his spot being filled by drummer Glenn Milchem (now a nearly 20-year vet of the band and a great songwriter himself in his side project, The Swallows), while Wiseman made way for players such as James Gray, Kim Dechamps, Bob Packwood and, today, underrated multi-instrumentalist Bob Egan. At its heart, the trio of Cuddy, Keelor and Donovan have always steered the ship with a steady hand, and maintained an appreciation of their good fortune at being stationed in Canada.
"I don't mean to sound too Canadiana here," Cuddy says, "but it really is a remarkable thing to be given entrance into Tuktuyaaqtuuq, Fort McKay, all kinds of stuff. It's an incredible experience."
Indeed, the band's love of touring this unwieldy country was a big part of their initial success. Thanks to a national college scene in the late '80s and '90s that craved homegrown talent, they were able to meet young Canadians at a crucial time in their lives. "A band you discover at 18 can be hard to drop for the rest of your life," says Cuddy sagely, "and I think that happened to a lot of bands: Jeff Healey, the Cowboy Junkies, ourselves, Cochrane and k.d. lang. We just entered into this realm where everybody was discovering something at the same time."
These discoveries launched many big careers Tom Cochrane, who was also inducted in 2010 but few bigger than Blue Rodeo. Today, the band can look back on a staggering list of achievements 11 JUNO awards (including a record five for Group of the Year), tours that continue to be among the highest grossing on the continent, and a trail of influence that stretches across generations and genres. And now this honour adds to the list.
"I think there are certain landmarks in a band's career," Cuddy says. "I remember when we were first on [CBC's] Morningside. Even though Peter [Gzowski] didn't pay a lot of attention to us, we were on Morningside, and that was going into my parents' ears. And that was a huge deal
my dad phoned me that day and it was like he'd never seen me before. I think that the Walk of Fame is right up there with those experiences; they are an acknowledgement of something incredibly rare happening in your own country. It's a celebration for my family."
Blue Rodeo members have collaborated extensively with other notable Canadian artists, including Sarah McLachlan, The Tragically Hip, Burton Cummings, Great Big Sea, Jann Arden, The Sadies, Skydiggers, Crash Vegas, Cowboy Junkies, Sarah Harmer and Kathleen Edwards.